Encinitas to join special housing authority to create ‘middle income’ rental units

Staff photo
(Karen Billing)

Council also approves vehicle speed limit increase for roadway near Leo Mullen Sports Park 


Encinitas will join other cities across the state that are attempting to create housing for teachers, police officers and other “middle income” people by participating in a special, bond-issuing government agency.

The City Council last month voted to have Encinitas become the newest member of the California Community Housing Agency, a joint powers authority that has the ability to issue tax-exempt bonds to produce, preserve and protect what’s termed middle-income rental housing.

That’s the category of housing that often doesn’t get built normally; it’s the “missing middle,” Mayor Catherine Blakespear said.

“This program fills that in a way that we are not able to do and the market is not able to do on its own,” she said.

A relatively new entity, the California Community Housing Agency (CalCHA) was founded two years ago by Kings County and the Housing Authority of Kings County. The agency now has about two dozen members, including Chula Vista, La Mesa and Escondido in San Diego County, as well as various Bay Area cities and Santa Barbara.

Last month, the agency issued $101 million in bonds to acquire the Stoneridge Apartments in Walnut Creek and it did two bond issuances totaling $285 million in 2020 for other projects, the agency’s website states.

Jordan Moss, who runs a private company that works with CalCHA, told the Encinitas City Council that its vote to become a member of the agency is the first step in a process. His company, Catalyst Housing Group, next will identify “opportunities for acquisition or development,” and then return to the council at a later point to seek approval for a proposal, according to his PowerPoint presentation.

Moss repeatedly stressed that the city faces no financial risk out of its participation in the agency. CalCHA issues its bonds under its own authority — the city is not liable for these bonds and their issuance does not impact the city’s own ability to borrow money, Moss said and the city attorney confirmed. Even the membership in the agency is fee-free, and the city will have the option of acquiring the agency’s income-restricted housing project 15 years later, Moss said.

However, there is one area that the city does give up — property tax revenue. Because CalCHA is a government entity, when it purchases property, that land becomes tax exempt, and that’s what helps make these projects pencil out financially, he said.

CalCHA housing projects are for people making less than 120 percent of the area median income. Last year, San Diego County’s area median income figure was $92,700, the website for the county’s Housing & Community Development Services states.

A family of four making 120 percent of the area median income, or a total of $111,250, and renting a three-bedroom unit would pay $2,781 in rent, a San Diego Housing Commission chart indicates

When the agency rehabilitates existing housing, rather than building a new project, the current rental occupants have the right remain even if they make more than the median income restriction, Moss said. They will be charged market rate rents and when they eventually move out, their units will be rented at the lower rate to people who meet the income restrictions, he said.

Initially, the council’s vote was 4-0 in favor, with Councilman Joe Mosca saying he wished to abstain because he had asked the council to hold off for a month to obtain more information on the agency. The city attorney told Mosca that he couldn’t abstain; he needed to either vote in favor or against, and he ultimately voted in favor, making it a unanimous decision.

In other action, the council voted 4-1, with Mosca opposed, to raise the speed limit by 5 mph to 30 mph on Via Cantebria between Garden View Road and Town Center Drive, an area where the Target shopping center occupies one side of the street and Leo Mullen Sports Park the other side.

A recent traffic study of the roadway determined that the posted speed limit must be increased or the city cannot by law enforce the speed limit using radar or other electronic devices, a city staff report notes.

Mosca said increasing the speed limit would put children’s safety at risk, and noted that many families park in the Target lot and cross the street to play on the sports fields.

City Traffic Enginer Abe Bandegan said that while the city is required now to raise the speed limit based on current vehicle speed patterns, it is looking into making adjustments to the roadway, including adding a stop sign and crosswalk at the Target intersection.

— Barbara Henry is a freelance writer for The San Diego Union-Tribune